Wednesday, 21 November 2012

My interview with EU Prize winning architect, Sir David Chipperfield. This article was published in "the Market" magazine (UK).

Portrait of David Chipperfield
by Martin Goodwin

David Chipperfield is one of Britain’s leading contemporary architects. Until recently most of his work has been built overseas, but with the opening of two major projects in the UK, the British public can finally get to experience some of his buildings first hand. The Turner Contemporary in Margate, and the Hepworth in Wakefield have both opened recently.

David Chipperfield studied at Kingston Poly and the Architectural Association in the late 70’s, where he was in the same year as Zaha Hadid. He went on to work for Norman Foster and Richards Rogers, before founding David Chipperfield Architects in 1984.

BBC Scotland headquarters, Glasgow.
A simple exterior gives no clues to the building's complex functions.
The building houses offices, studios, technical departments and a large auditorium

BBC Scotland headquarters, Glasgow.
Multiple levels of offices open onto a vast atrium, 
with studios and an auditorium cleverly slotted
beneath the red brick stepped terraces.

His first commissions were for shops for Issey Miyake in London and Tokyo, and that led to further projects in Japan. Since then he has designed a wide-variety of buildings, from shops and houses, to museums, libraries and law courts. His buildings can be found everywhere from Shanghai to Valencia.
Growing from an architecture firm employing 15 people, to one with almost 300 employees, David Chipperfield Architects have offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai.

Working on a variety of building types and in multiple locations has helped David Chipperfield Architects weather the economic downturn.
While the UK building industry has been in a slump, he has been busy building in China and Germany.

Ninetree Village housing complex,
Hangzhou, SE China.
A luxury housing complex of 12
 bamboo clad blocks scattered in forested valley.

Site plan

David Chipperfield’s buildings can be described as sober and sophisticated.
They are sober in that they have simple forms and a subdued palette of materials, pale concrete, metal and frosted glass. They are sophisticated in that much effort has gone into creating the forms, the layout of the buildings and their details.
He is clearly interested in quality: the quality of the spaces he creates, the quality of the light in these spaces, and the quality of the experience for the buildings users.
Some of his buildings are deceptively simple; looking like industrial buildings from a distance.

We recently interviewed David Chipperfield at his London studio, and asked him about his 30-year career and recent projects.

We asked him about his design concept for the Turner Contemporary in Margate and the Hepworth Wakefield.

“Both buildings are composite forms, rather than being a singular form. They are multiple forms put together”

 “The external form reflects the internal room. In Margate you have these shed like structures, and inside you have a shed like space.
In Hepworth, they are more trapezoidal forms, but what you see on the outside, is what you get on the inside. You get a hollowed out trapezoidal volume.”

At the Hepworth Wakefield 11 blocks cluster together like a small village, set on a weir. At Margate 6 blocks cluster together on the seafront, facing out to sea.

The Hepworth Wakefield has been built to house the works of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, a native of Wakefield. It will also host exhibitions of contemporary art by other artists. With over 1,600 square metres of gallery space, The Hepworth Wakefield is the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London, and is located in a conservation area, among listed mills and historic warehouses.
We asked him how about the clustered design of the Hepworth.
“The very first sketches I did were of a series of buildings pushed together, so that was a very strong preconception. It shouldn’t be one big volume, but a volume, made of smaller ones.
The gallery is composed of 11 trapezoid shaped volumes clustered together.

Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, Yorkshire, England.

Hepworth Wakefield Floor Plan

The Margate Contemporary, like the Hepworth Wakefield is a space for contemporary art, and is composed of a cluster of six volumes, grouped together to form the building.
The building is located between the land and the sea, and has a strong sculptural presence on the Margate seafront. The orientation of the building was influenced by the desire to get North light into the galleries.
The building is composed of 6 identical two-storey volumes set on a plinth to protect it from flooding. The gallery spaces are well lit and not vast. “ I think galleries work best with limited scale rooms.”

Turner Contemporary, Margate, England.

Turner Contemporary, upper gallery.

Both projects have been largely funded by their local councils, as part of economic and cultural regeneration schemes. They are designed for local people to use and enjoy, and to bring in visitors and their money from outside the immediate area. The Turner Contemporary has had over 130,000 visitors in the first two months it has been open, exceeding the number of visitors predicted for the whole year.

The Turner Margate and Hepworth Wakefield are both public buildings funded by the local council and art organisations. There are relatively few commissions or competitions for public buildings in the UK, compared to the rest of Europe and Japan. This is one of the reasons that most of Chipperfield’s work has been outside the UK.
“ If you go to Europe, the public sector is still strong, so France, Germany, Austria, Holland, there is still a big programme of public building works, which are all given by competition. Libraries, museums, railway stations.” Architectural competitions are one of the ways young architects can make a name for themselves. Fewer competitions mean less opportunities for new architectural talent to emerge.

We asked David about the young architects working for him.
“We are very privileged, the people who come to work here, see it as a good studio to work in. They are very motivated. We give them a lot of responsibility, and some of them grab that responsibility. It’s really impressive to see how young kids come here, and they grow up, and after five years they have got an amazing amount of experience building buildings.”

When asked about the UK building sector David states, “ We are operating in a vibrant commercial market. The development energy here is primarily commercial. The consequence of liberating the private sector, has been to weaken the public sector. I can’t complain, as we have been fine, except every project involves a plane trip.”

We asked him which countries he thinks are producing the most interesting architecture.
“Japan and Switzerland have always produced good architects, because they are willing to listen to the architects, and willing to pay for quality.
Spain for the past ten years has had a lot of energy and development, but that bubble has burst now, and it’s a sad moment for Spain.
Brazil and India are producing a lot of interesting and innovative work, the climate there allows for experimentation, the building can be more than just a box with windows and doors.”

Anchorage Museum, Alaska, USA.

David Chipperfield has become known for designing museums, which isn’t surprising as he’s designed quite a few of them around the world.
He’s designed museums and art galleries in the UK, US, and China; and recently was awarded the European Architecture Prize for Contemporary Architecture 2011 for his reconstruction of the Neues Museum in Berlin.
The Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island is a 19th century neo-classical building by the architect Friedrich August Stüler. It was partially destroyed during WW2, and stood unrestored till German reunification. David Chipperfield Architects have rebuilt and restored the museum, retaining the original layouts and spaces, while updating it’s facilities for the 21st century.

Neues Museum, Berlin

The America’s Cup Building in Valencia’s Old Port is another David Chipperfield project that has gained much acclaim. The building’s dramatic sculptural form stands white against the blue sky; the stacked and shifted floor slabs are cantilevered dramatically, providing shade and uninterrupted views out to sea.
It's another example of Chipperfield's sophisticated simplicity, reducing each building down to a handful of key elements and materials.

Currently David Chipperfield is designing a major development in London. Located next to Waterloo station, the Elizabeth House project will consist of offices and a residential building, with a new public square and improved access to the station. The project is scheduled for completion in 2015, and is set to transform the area.

Like many leading architects, David Chipperfield also designs products. If he can’t find a door handle he likes for one of his buildings, he designs one.
He’s designed door handles for Fusital, furniture for B+B Italia and Driade, lighting for Artemide and FontanaArte, and dishes and glasses for Alessi.

We asked David which artists he’s interested in. “Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Cy Twombley, Gerhard Richter, Gary Hume.” He likes contemporary photography, and the work of the American Abstract Expressionists.
“As an architect, you’ve got to be interested in art…I think it is important to be aware, and have some curiosity about art.”
Having designed museums and artists studios, David Chipperfield has got to know many of the leading artists of today.

When asked if he had always wanted to be an architect, David replies that, he grew up on a farm, and as a child he wanted to be a vet.
If he couldn’t be an architect, what would he like to be?
“A photographer, or a painter…I wouldn’t mind cooking, being a chef.”
I don’t expect that David Chipperfield will be looking for a new career anytime soon, as his talents as an architect are clearly in demand, at home and abroad.

David Chipperfield has taught and lectured worldwide.
He has been awarded many prestigious awards, including the Sterling Prize, the EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture, and a RIBA Gold Medal, he was knighted in the Queens New Years Honours List 2010 for his services to Architecture.

This interview was first published in the Market magazine (UK), September 2011.

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